Interpreting Scripture (Confessiones XI, 1-2)

12 May 2023

Lord, since eternity is yours, is it possible for you not to know what I’m saying to you or for you to see just for a limited period what’s happening in time?

So why do I tell you everything so exhaustively? Certainly not for you to learn what’s happening from me, but to rouse my heart and those of the people who are reading me and make them feel longing, so that we can all say: ‘Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised’.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I tell you all this out of love for your love. Because, when we pray, the truth is that ‘your Father knows what you need before you ask it’. So, when we acknowledge our wretched state of being, to you in confession; when we’re grateful to you for the mercy you’ve shown us, we open our heart so that you can complete your work within us and can redeem us. We do it to be saved from unhappiness and to find happiness in you. Because you’ve called us, that we may be poor in spirit, and meek, and mourners, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and merciful, and pure in heart, and peacemakers.

So I’ve told you many things, things which I could and which I would, for you first would have me confess to you, my Lord and God, for you are good, since your mercy endures forever.

But when will I ever be able enough, with the tongue of my pen, to express all your exhortations, and all your awe, consolations and  instruction, whereby you’ve led me to preach your word and to dispense your sacraments to your people? And even if I were able to utter these things in order, the drops of time are dear to me.

I’ve long burned to meditate on your law and to confess to you my knowledge and ignorance, the beginning of your illumination and the remains of my darkness, until infirmity is swallowed up by strength. I wouldn’t want to spend on anything else that time when I’m free from the necessities of refreshing my body, the care of my mind, and the service to others, which is an obligation, a debt we pay even though we don’t owe it.

Lord my God, hear my prayer, and let your mercy heed my yearning, since it burns not for myself alone, but because it desires to benefit brotherly love; you see in my heart that this is so. I would sacrifice to you the service of my thought and tongue; give me what I want to offer you. I’m poor and needy; you’re rich to all those who call upon you.

Cleanse my inner and outer lips from all rashness and from all lying. Let your scriptures be my chaste delights. Let me neither be deceived in them, nor deceive others through them. Lord, hear and take pity on me. Lord my God, light of the blind, and strength of the weak; the light of those who see, and strength of the strong, attend to my soul, and hear it crying out of the depths. Because if your ears aren’t present in the depths also, what recourse do we have? Who shall we cry to?

The day is yours, and the night is also yours. At your behest the minutes fly by. Grant us some of this time for our meditations on the hidden things of your law; and don’t close the door on us who are knocking. You haven’t willed that the obscure secret of so many pages should be written to no purpose. It’s not as though those forests don’t have deer in them, ranging, walking, feeding, lying down and ruminating. Guide my steps, Lord, and reveal them to me. Your voice is my joy, Your voice surpasses the abundance of pleasures. Give that which I love, for I do love; and this is something you’ve given me. Don’t abandon your own gifts, nor disdain your grass that thirsts. Let me confess to you whatever I’ll find in your books and let me hear the voice of praise. Let me imbibe you, and reflect on the wonderful things of your law: from the beginning, when you made the heaven and the earth, until the everlasting kingdom of your holy city that is with you.